The Bad Guy
When we consider the problem of doping it’s easy to look at the issue in terms of black and white. There are the clean riders (white) and the doped riders (black). There are the teams whose management actively work to keep riders clean (white). And there are teams whose management organize and facilitate doping (black).
Such an outlook keeps the problem chopped up in easy to digest chunks. And while it may be easier to organize our thinking and ability to pass judgement on who should be in or out of the sport, such an assessment does little to shed light on the reality of the problem.
Every time we reduce someone to “culprit” or “doper” what we are doing is labeling them “the bad guy.” By reducing them into a two-dimensional role, they become cardboard cutouts, symbols, for what we find offensive. Dressing a guy in a black hat automatically makes him the bad guy. That’s what makes old spaghetti westerns so laughable; you didn’t need to know anything more about the guy than the fact that he had the black hat on.
And remember, in most good/bad conflict movies from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the bad guy only did bad things. They stole. They murdered. They polluted the planet and ate babies for lunch.
The good guys (white hats) were just as laughable. They were saintly in demeanor. They protected babies, fed the poor, fought crime and had nary a carnal thought.
It would seem that Pat McQuaid is a big believer in the black hat. McQuaid wants every former rider who ever had a brush with doping to be banned from roles in team management, banned from the sport. If we consider the example of guys like Jonathan Vaughters, a manager who says he faced some difficult decisions while he was a rider, banning him would mean losing a figure who understands the trials riders face better than most. Who else would better understand the agonies of the riders than someone who was confronted with those very choices.
Now, Vaughters never tested positive, was never banned. However, if we assess some of his more veiled statements about his past, his time with the US Postal team, we might conclude that his grand jury testimony included statements that McQuaid would find sufficient cause to ban him, should the UCI pass such a rule.
Right now, I see Vaughters as one of the best proponents of clean sport. He has seen the dark side of the sport and yet still believes that clean sport is possible and is providing his riders the support necessary to be competitive without resorting to doping.
If we want to understand doping, we need to understand more than the biology behind the drugs. We need to know more than who they got the drugs from, more than their training regimen. We need to know, to understand the riders as people. We must understand what caused them to confront the choices that led to their doping. That means no black hats.
As long as we reduce each cyclist who used performance-enhancing drugs to the black-hatted doper who just wanted to win, we’ll miss the drive for most of the peloton. If Frankie Andreu is to be believed—and I think we should heed his words—he used not to win, but to survive, to keep his job. There are lessons in his effort to survive.
I don’t want to go all Oprah on you, but if we set aside our need to judge, we can listen to stories told by people, people who often faced choices as attractive as rock and hard place.